Tuesday 26 April 2016

Review: Boy X by Dan Smith

Kidnapped and drugged, Ash wakes up on a remote tropical island. His mum - a genetic scientist - has been imprisoned and infected with a deadly virus. Where is he, and what's he doing there? He sets out to cross the jungle to find out and rescue his mother. Soon he realises he's quicker and sharper than before. But there's something else ...why are the animals watching him, and how can he use the jungle to his advantage?

Dan Smith writes great thrillers. I loved his Big Game, with its frantic pace and reluctant hero Oskari saving the US President from the bad guys in the wilds of Finland, and when his new book, Boy X, arrived through my door a while back it jumped straight to the top of my ultra-wobbly TBR pile.

The main protagonist of Boy X is another young teen boy who suddenly finds himself way out of his depth in a fight for survival against highly trained villains who are armed to the teeth. However, poor Ash McCarthy does not have the local knowledge advantages that Oskari had in Big Game: at the beginning of the book he wakes in a strange laboratory with no knowledge of why or how he got there. Add a race against time due to the release of a super-deadly new virus and Ash experience the emergence of strange new abilities, and we have all the ingredients for a superb sci-fi thriller, with Dan Smith as the masterchef bringing them all together. If you have a hunger for fast-paced action stories then this is a meal that will both satisfy your appetite and leave you wanting more.

Dan Smith is also a master at keeping his readers gripped by drip-feeding essential information about the plot and the characters' back-stories. There are no big info dumps or sudden reveals that feel forced or make the reader feel cheated. Despite the sci-fi element and the crazy situation in which they find themselves, Ash and his equally out-of-her-depth new friend Isabel, are real enough for young readers to relate to and they complement each other perfectly.

Dan Smith brings his story to an explosive and satisfying conclusion, but the final chapter leaves the reader with a promise that Ash's story is far from over. This is fabulous as I am certainly hungry for more, and I know many other with feel the same way. My thanks go to the lovely people at Chicken House for sending me a copy of the book.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Review: Perijee & Me by Ross Montgomery

When 11-year-old Caitlin discovers a shrimp-like alien creature on the shores of her island home, she takes responsibility for teaching it about the world. Mostly, this just involved stopping little Perijee from eating everything! Caitlin becomes increasingly close to her alien friend, treating him like a brother.

There's only one problem - Perijee won't stop growing.

Then the authorities try to hunt him down and through his fear, Perijee disappears and starts causing trouble. Caitlin must leave home and travel across the country to try and convince Perijee to stop destroying everything before it's too late.

Perijee & Me is Ross Montgomery's third book for young readers and yet again he has struck gold. His first two books, Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door and The Tornado Chasers, are among me favourite children's books of recent years, and this third offering has now made it on to that list as well. All three books have something very special about them that I find hard to describe. I have the same feelings when I try to describe John Boyne's The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brockett and Noah Barleywater Runs Away. They are contemporary fairy tales, with fantastic character studies, humour, dark fringes, and magical fantasy elements (without the actual magic) and the kind of stories that I think the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen might be creating if they were alive and writing in the 21st Century.

Perijee & Me is an enchanting story that will especially appeal to any reader, child or adult, who has ever felt lonely or who has felt that they have fallen short of the expectations of others. It is about Caitlin, a girl with no friends and 'absent' parents who stumbles across something special, in much the same way as Elliott does in E.T. In fact, there are elements of Perijee & Me that pay homage to Spielberg's masterpiece, as well as one of my all time favourite stories, Ted Hughes' The Iron Man

After a particularly violent storm, Caitlin discovers a strange creature lying close-to-death on the beach, surrounded by thousands of festering prawns that have been washed ashore. Her attempts to protect her new friend Perijee from what we would know as exploitation are sadly unsuccessful, and there's this moment where, like in E.T. the authorities arrive on the scene, but that's where the similarities end. Perijee is no meek and fragile creature, and the armed men who storm Caitlin's house very quickly discover that they are woefully unprepared. Can Caitlin defy all the odds and save Perijee from the world, and possibly more importantly, save the world from Perijee?

I hope that Perijee & Me brings Ross Montgomery the wider recognition that he so deserves. Despite his debut being shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book of the Year Award back in 2013, he still falls under the radar of many people who buy books for children, whilst in my opinion he should be up there with likes of John Boyne and Frank Cottrell Boyce. I expect there will be a lot of readers who, on finishing Perijee & Me, will venture out to get their hands on his previous two books.

My thanks go to the lovely people at Faber for sending me a copy of Perijee & Me to read.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Guest Post by Shane Hegarty (Author of the Darkmouth series)

I loved Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty and you can read my review from last April here. Well time flies, and last week saw the publication of Chaos Descends, the THIRD book in the series. I am really excited to welcome Shane to The Book Zone today, to tell us what inspired him to write Darkmouth and his thoughts of how he intends to continue developing the series in the future:

About four years ago now, I was sitting on a train – on the floor of the train actually, head being knocked by knees, back being kicked by feet – and an idea hit me. What if there was a last town on earth which Legends of myth still invaded. And in that town was a family who had too keep the Legends out. And there was one kid who would have to take over, save the town and save the world.

But he wasn’t very good at it.

That idea hit me so strongly I had to start writing straight away. Then someone’s knees hit me and that was the end of that for the train journey at least.

But I went back to that story, developed the story of Finn the reluctant Legend Hunter, and his more adventurous friend Emmie. I fleshed out the town of Darkmouth, and the parallel world of the Legends.

I had no idea of anyone other than me would ever read it, though. All through it, I was trying to create a story not just that I wanted to write, but I would want to read.

I wanted a story with a not particularly competent hero, that mixed fantasy with the everyday reality, that wandered between two worlds and wouldn’t be afraid to head off on a tangent.

I wanted a story with imagination, strange creatures, scares but – very importantly – jokes. And as an adult reader, there are very, very few books combining these things. But novels for younger readers, well that’s where the fun is.

Writing it became a game of “what if?” What if a 12-year-old really had to fight Legends and then go to school straight after? What if monsters had been invading n otherwise normal small town for generations? What if you were one of these Legends – what would be like to be, say, a Minotaur or one of the heads on a Hydra?

The hope is that younger readers end up having as much fun reading it as I do writing it. But there’s the hope they’ll maybe recognise something of themselves in Finn, or Emmie or – if they want – any of the Legends. And they might recognise the grown-ups, and the town (which is a character in its own right). That the “what if” part of the idea means a mix the fantastic with the recognisable.

There have been three books since that train journey, and I’m currently writing the fourth. The aim is to develop Finn and Emmie and the other characters, and to deepen the story, but without losing those things I loved about Darkmouth in the first place. I want to keep the fun, adventure, fantasy, realness, the scary parts and the funny bits. I want it to be fun to write, and to read.

And, most importantly, I now make sure to do it all from a nice quiet office where no-one knees me in the head.


Huge thanks to Shane for taking the time to write this for us. If you're kids love fun action adventure fantasy stories then the Darkmouth books are definitely must-reads.